Low birth weight is a risk factor for coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and hypertension. Depression is highly associated with these conditions.
To examine the association between birth weight and depression in late life.
A total of 882 singleton term births in the 1920s had contemporary records of birth weight and weight at 1 year. At 68 years all completed the Geriatric Depression Scale and 867 completed the Geriatric Mental State Examination. A logistic regression was used to analyse the associations between depression, birth weight and weight at 1 year while adjusting for known risk factors.
Current social class, social class at birth, recent bereavement, social isolation and physical illness increased the risk of depression. After adjusting for these and weight at 1 year, the odds ratios for depression among men, but not women, rose incrementally with decreasing birth weight (1.0, 12.8; for continuous variable, P < 0.007).
Foetal undernutrition predisposes men to depression in late adult life. If replicated, these results would suggest a neurodevelopmental aetiology of depression, possibly mediated by programming of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis.